[Review] Habits of the Heartland: Small-Town Life in Modern America Page: 1,374
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American Journal of Sociology
cated than were the Regulars, but like the Regulars, most Main Streeters
had deep roots in the region. Main Streeters worked tirelessly, through a
variety of formal civic organizations and informal social ties, to "improve"
their town-for example by working with state officials to widen the
town's Main Street, renovate many of its buildings, and encourage down-
town business owners to cooperate in promoting the town as a whole.
Alternatives, a group whose presence and visibility initially surprised
MacGregor (p. 15), were ex-suburbanites or urbanites from outside the
region who were drawn to Viroqua mainly for its local Waldorf School
(an alternative private high school). The Alternatives brought with them
an urban culture, elements of which were resisted by many Regulars and
even some Main Streeters. But the Alternatives' commitment to com-
munity, though based on a search for self-expression and fulfillment (p.
54) rather than on tradition, resembled the Main Streeters' commitment
in that both groups professed belief in the almost "limitless possibilities
for individual efficacy" (p. 51) available in the town.
The book begins with a slightly awkward introduction in which
MacGregor discusses the reservations she had about moving to Viroqua,
and her occasional desire to leave once she was there. She goes on to
justify her ethnographic study as an antidote to "rural versus urban,
gemeinschaft versus geselleschaft" oversimplifications (p. 7) that impede
our ability to understand contemporary communities. In part 1, Mac-
Gregor examines the town's three main social groups, and in part 2 she
makes a number of theoretical points about how Viroquans' patterns of
consumption intersect with their ways of understanding community and
morality. The numerous, if somewhat scattered, arguments she makes
here regarding the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Sharon Zukin, David Brooks,
and others are generally convincing, and can usefully inform sociological
research on consumption, identity, morality, and small communities.
In my reading the book has two main weaknesses, the first of which
is its stated justification. In the introduction, MacGregor takes aim not
at debates among sociologists within one or another subfield (she covers
these in part 2), but rather the widespread nostalgia for small town life
that she finds in American popular culture. But her evidence for this
nostalgia is weak: she cites the popularity of the writer and radio per-
sonality Garrison Keillor, the apparent "explosion of interest in the work
of Norman Rockwell" (p. 6), and the fact that the magazine Country Living
has over a million readers. Though there may be a current of small town
nostalgia in America today, I for one don't feel it, and I find it difficult
to believe that this kind of nostalgia is particularly widespread or deeply
felt. What's more, in the end, the book doesn't offer much in the way of
a debunking or deconstruction of small town nostalgia, as its strengths
lie elsewhere. The second weakness, closely related to the first, concerns
the basic message of the book, because this really isn't a book about the
habits of the heartland per se, nor is it about small-town life in modern
America (the subtitle). It is rather about the habits of a very unique (p.
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Ignatow, Gabriel. [Review] Habits of the Heartland: Small-Town Life in Modern America, review, January 2011; [Chicago, Illinois]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc78295/m1/2/: accessed February 24, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Public Affairs and Community Service.